There have been many Christmas stories told over the years. This one is about "A Christmas Story" coming home to Hammond.
The story begins in early December 2006, when Times columnist Mark Kiesling and I were talking about old movies. I mentioned that the first movie I bought on VHS was the 1983 film "A Christmas Story."
Mark, whose funeral was Tuesday, knew of it right away, of course. The movie was based on stories by Jean Shepherd, the famous radio personality who was raised in Hammond. Want to hear Shep's radio voice? Listen to his narration in the film.
Mark and I talked about how places depicted in the movie were filmed elsewhere even though many of the actual sites still existed in Hammond.
The next thing we knew, I had talked Mark into a big project for Christmas Eve 2006, including a large map for a driving tour of Hammond -- "Hohman" in the movie -- sites related to the movie. It was work he loved, writing about how Cleveland co-opted a Hammond story.
Shepherd's boyhood home still exists, but the movie folks thought it didn't look enough like 1940 Hammond and chose a Cleveland home instead. Then an East Coast fan who loved the movie bought the home, remodeled it so the interior looked like the home in the movie, and turned it into a tourist attraction.
"Unlike Cleveland, Hammond has no gift shop selling Ovaltine, Lifebuoy soap or a working replica of the 1940 Speed-O-Matic Little Orphan Annie decoder ring," Mark wrote in his Dec. 24, 2006, column.
That same day, my own column suggested "the idea for an event that Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Speros Batistatos could turn into a money-maker and attention-getter for Northwest Indiana."
Sound familiar? It should.
The tourism bureau, now known as the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, pounced on the idea. Board member Bill Wellman called me after Mark's column and mine appeared. We talked of a flagpole in front of the Indiana Welcome Center with a statue of Ralphie's tongue stuck to the flagpole.
A series of statues of "A Christmas Story" characters would have cost $75,000 apiece, so the agency tracked down and purchased the animated holiday window displays designed for Macy's in 2003. For the cost of a single statue, the local tourism agency got a whole set of "A Christmas Story" displays.
Now the South Shore CVA has all kinds of annual events associated with the beloved movie. There's the ugliest lamp contest, the "Oh Fuuudge Relay Race," the "Mommy's Little Piggy" mashed potato eating contest and a theme-writing contest. There's a big holiday celebration in downtown Hammond at the start of the Christmas season. Kids can even be photographed atop Santa's Mountain.
It was fun working with Mark on the writing project that helped spur the "A Christmas Story Comes Home" celebration each year at the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond. It's a fitting legacy for Mark.